The Cultural Roots of Risk: How Mobilities and Risk Work in Underdeveloped Countries

The Cultural Roots of Risk: How Mobilities and Risk Work in Underdeveloped Countries

Maximiliano Emanuel Korstanje (Department of Economics, University of Palermo, Buenos Aires, Argentina & CERS, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/IJRCM.2017010101
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This paper discusses the story of Mary and Roger an elderly couple who opted to buy a car, but later were pressed to sell it because they were unable to absorb the costs of insurance. The world of risks does not work in the same lines in North than South. This pieces invites the discussion to what extent risk perception is not an instrument for controlling workforce in under-developing nations. The mythologies of mobility have been formulated around life in the First World. They work as ideological devices to activate certain circuits of the economy, which in other times were relegated to peripheral positions. The industries of tourism and air travel transport millions travelers who enjoy the benefits of being mobile in a world where others do not share the same luck.
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From Chernobyl onwards the question of risk has been installed in the politics of industrial societies (Moore & Burgess, 2011). Discussion has proceeded in two contrasting waves, which dispute the meaning of the issue (Beck, 1992; 1995; 2005). Though these groups have received diverse names, for operational and practical purpose, we use the term “culturalists and probabilists” to identify these schools. While the former understands risk as a social construct whose function is to keep society united, the latter examines probabilities as valid source for predicting disasters and hazardous situations (Skoll and Korstanje 2013). The problem for the probabilists is the indeterminacy of the role played by the culture in over estimating some risks while ignoring others. To some extent, each culture has developed its own system to create risks which vary with the economic order (Douglas & Wildavsky 1983; Cahan et al, 2007; Hopkins 2005; Sennett, 2011). If Americans are terrified by global terrorism (Altheide, 2006; Boscarino et al, 2006; Chermak 2003; Skoll 2010; Howie 2012; Korstanje 2013; Skoll & Korstanje 2013; Sageman 2014). Argentineans feel the same terror for local crime or offenses against property (Kessler, 2009; Miguez & Isla 2010; Buvinic 2008; Korstanje, 2009a). Culturalists argue that risks serve as a disciplinary mechanism to enhance political legitimacy (Barry, Osborne & Rose 1996; Foucault, 2009). Probabilists, in contrast, have focused their attention on the effects, not the nature, of risks. For example, we may drive a vehicle at high speeds putting our life at risk. The probabilities of suffering road accidents, though we may not know the precise statistics, are higher among speeders than other drivers (Luhmann, 1993; Giddens 1991). Regardless of culture or personal perceptions, risks can be predicted using algorithms and mathematical models. Despite such predictive capabilities, culturalists criticize probabilists for not understanding the real nature of risks and their relation to the paradox of technology (Korstanje and Skoll 2013). While science and the production of knowledge are devoted to mitigating risk, other, new and more dangerous risks may arise. The discrepancies between quantitative and qualitative methods adds another point of contention (Waterton & Wynne 1999). Probabilists such as C. Sunstein assert that emotions obscure the horizon in the decision making process. Neglect of risk works by the evaluation of biased landscapes regarding the probabilities of occurrence, but this does not mean that risks cannot be prevented by using mathematical models of correlation and regression (Sunstein, 2002a; 2002b; 2006). A third position in this debate merges the arguments to understand the issue as a probabilistic but without ignoring that it is based on cultural contexts (Slovic 1987; Lash 2000).

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